Monthly Archives: July 2018

We Grew Up Fast

Just finished two books on rough childhoods and chaotic backgrounds, J D Vance “Hillbilly Elegy” and Harley Flannagans “Hard Core – Life of my own”. They’re not just stories of children, and how their outcome in life is a result of childhood, it’s also very much a story about class and opportunity.

I grew up in the 70’s, with a housewife mom and a working dad. Both of them were active communists when they met (I was conceived on a Soviet friendly trip through the Iron Curtain in 1973, apparently in Transylvania). My dad came from Russian borgeouise and revolted against his background by becoming communist, but my moms genes came from true white trash lineage: my grandmother, to whom I was the apple of her eye, was born a bastard and had to move from home at a very young age to serve in a household, and my grandfather was an abusive alcoholic with travelling people blood.

It would be a lie to say I grew up like the kids in Appalachia or Lower East Side, but there are some similarities that shapes you: for instance I grew up dirt poor. Every summer from when I was 12, I had to work throughout my whole summer holidays to sustain my interests, and even additional bus card for music rehersal. But there was no weekly or monthly allowance, going to the movies, buying a record or going to concerts was budgeted for.

Since my mom hated her mother-in-law, who was from Russian high society, I didn’t spend much time with her as a child, and missed out on the opportunity to learn about social codes among the rich. Instead I grew up with poor food, and lack of anything but common sense for my kind. Clothes etc. was a bare necessity and not something that meant status. Rather lack thereof.

My father didn’t teach me much, since he worked most of the time, but he taught me to pay the bills and if there was anything left, I’d eat that month. He also taught me there was no such thing as a dishonest job. And he taught me to be loyal, though you probably shouldn’t in some obvious cases. My mother was a terrible person to grow up with. I know now that she probably has a Borderline Personality Disorder, something both me and my sister has been diagnosed with. She made promises of rewards that she would never keep, and she’d be embarrased with me and tell me that she was. Never once did she stand up for me, even when a teacher hit me, she was embarrased of the commotion I’ve caused with my bad behaviour.

My father wasn’t exactly a great source of encouragement either. Sure, it was great that I had my music and friends, but why did I opt for that shit music, and those shit friends? Nothing was good enough for him, and in hindsight, I hear the echo of his own past in my ear. But that took its toll, and my friends became my real family, since it seemed mine didn’t want me or at least didn’t accept me for who or what I was.

Early on, I decided that I’d leave the house as soon as I could, and that became my only goal. As JD Vance describes it in his book though, you might leave the house, but the culture of the house is always with you. And also like him, I was shaped by the community I surrounded myself with, other music freaks who didn’t trust society and authority and wanted to watch the world burn. That excluded most normal people, and the ones I kept close had to earn their respect as being credible in our subculture, as I had to have earn mine among my peers. This aspect and angle has taken me through subcultures all my life, basically because the life of the common people either has reminded me of my parents too much, or I’ve just felt like a stranger among those not extreme. As I’ve grown older, I’ve inherited my fathers talent as a social chameleon though.

I heard somewhere that you should find what you’re good at, and make that your living, rather than make a job out of your passion. Growing up, always feeling like I was never good enough and noone standing up for me, I’ve had to stand up for myself (which I’m pretty terrible at to be honest, and that’s a great part of why I’ve drank instead. Swallowing seemed easier), or find someone to work for who looked out for me. That creates a problem of identity, because I work best as a team, representing something that is larger than I. This may seem both humble and admirable, but it has created a path in my life where I’ve been loyal and not being payed neither in money nor in thankfulness, but been taken for a ride.

Another great error in my upbringing that still has great influence on my modus operandi, is my endless thirst for validation. As a child, I never had it from anyone but my grandmother, and she gave me rewards just for being me. That felt very good each and every time, and was the one thing I was looking forward to. In her place, I’ve gone on to reward myself constantly, to fill that gaping void in my soul: anything from candy, through records or books, to alcohol. Escapism has also been a great part of my character. Always looking for a way out, instead of facing whatever demons that were in my own mind. Leaving your surrounding and your context, creates the false idea that you are free from them, but in reality you just focus elsewhere at the moment. Soon enough, the demons catches up.

After these two books, I happened to open up Chris Grossos “Dead Set On Living”, a super interesting book on the Buddhist outlook on addiction. Like all therapies say, traumas in our childhood is the foundation for how we deal with the world as adults. But Grossos conclusion is founded in Buddhism, and this rings true within most Indian philosophies; we have a chance to heal our present projection of our childhood trauma, by accepting our condition, and embracing forgiveness.

I’ve been on wild goose chases, aimed for the moon and stars, in order to always fail. I now see that my mothers unrealistic approach to my rewards has had that impact on me. For the first time in my life, I feel the need to focus on one thing at a time, and not dream away but instead making plans, and work towards them. I am beginning to treat my work as a job and not a passion. I am fending off all wild dreams of the future, and instead focus on the now. It’s kind of liberating, once I accept that is where I am.

NP Travis Quite Free


Relationship vs Community in Coffee

In Speciality Coffee, we talk a lot about the relationships and communities affiliated doing business within our industry. At Da Matteo we’ve tried for a long time to find some kind of certification that tells a story what kind of work we do to improve the relationship with our coffee farmers, and their lives at Origin. That is one kind of relationship within Speciality Coffee. Another relationship to have is one between roaster and coffee shop.

Before I go on, there is a major difference between those two relationships. One is that the one selling coffee to a café is chasing the customer in order to buy. The one selling coffee to a roaster doesn’t necessarily have the means to chase the customer, but has to be found by the buyer (naturally, someone starting a café will look for the best coffee on the market, but there will be no shortage of competitors trying to get you to change your mind. We’ll get back to that).

A community is something else. It’s something built up around a mutual interest. It could be about making awareness about better coffee, or become better baristi with the help of your peers. For instance, you could call the SCA a larger community, pushing for better coffee in the world, the Roasters Guild and Barista Guild two other communities that don’t necessarily are separated from the SCA’s goal, but are targeting their own peer group (roaster and barista).

The communities themselves normally have a relationship to various partners: it could be a mother organization (like SCA) or sponsors (like a machine partner), but customers of various roasters and workers at competitor cafes can all thrive in the community, under the flag of “education” or “awareness building” etc (pretty much like board members of an organization, just much more losely based).

Organizations can suffer from difficulties such as corruption or bias, but members will quickly strike out against such behaviour when made known, and thus it is a somewhat safe form to build an organization, because it will have goals, and have the means to canonize knowledge worth keeping, and stay neutral or negative to pseudo science or science not yet proven. Communities however, are made up by individuals each with their own agenda or context of which they swear by. In coffee, the more cutting edge ideas, technology and scientific claims wihout proper research are held as the latest must-haves, or even made up to be the pinnacle of the industry. It can be branch leaders whose adapted ideas form a meme that then gets wide spread through the imagined community thriving on social media.

Here is where we are now. There’s a hegemony of ideas and images, claiming to be the final solution, held by industry inofficial leaders. They are made up by clusters of roasters, bloggers, designers and the like, whose ideas have not been canonized by an official organization, but by the grass root people, the imagined community, online and in real life when getting together in smaller gatherings of like minded people. Now, there are a lot of similarities between what we call an imagined community, and tribalism.

A tribe, compared to a community, is more far more tight knitted, held together not only by a common idea, but also as a means of survival. There is often a hierarchy, and the inner circle will only grow as the tribe grows. Not rarely, in the social glue that is the inner circle, there exists an official or an unspoken inoffical ethical stand between the parts, however those outside the circle are not applicable to those standards (they might adapt similar strategies lower in the chain, but the top is not loyal to the bottom even though the vice versa is common, out of “respect”).

In a community, there is always the sense of “the more, the merrier”, due to the wish to gather round a common goal, such as the spreading of Speciality Coffee for instance. An analogue I draw is one of several underground movements I’ve been part of; the tape trading back in the 80/90’s. Death Metal was something new and fresh, it was about the music and it was a true excitement being close to a movement. The broader it became, however, the more tribal it got. When Entombed got a record deal, they were almost considered sell outs. More people found our culture, and the more we started to feel there were too many “posers” around. In Norway, they went so far they basically wanted to put peoples loyalty to the extreme to the test, and so people started to burn churches and murder people in order to prove their salts worth. We who were nihilistic rebellious youth with a strong identity with the music, started feeling things were going to far, and so death metal stagnated in its culture, and the music itself started to sound very conform. Later, black metal met the same fate.

In the tribal world of Speciality Coffee, people seem to refrain from murder, but the structure is the same. Many people are trying hard to be invited into the warmth of the top dogs, some succeed. Some don’t. Others are just happy to be supporting the top in their great work. A community around the tribe, so to speak. In 1% terminology you could address them as “hangarounds”, and the ones trying to make the inner circle would be considered “prospects”.

Now, I find this idea of “relationship” and “community” problematic. We throw these words around withouth really honoring their meaning, when we are in fact more proned to tribalism. In a community you don’t have to agree on everything. Let’s say for instance you have a latte art throwdown, and a guy that works in a bar serving Italian style coffee beats everyones ass, he has earned everyones respect, but we might disagree with his stance that Italian coffee is the tastiest. He is still part of a community that over a beer can share stories of being a barista in a café.

The tribalists however, are much harder to deal with. They will frown upon anything that isn’t agreed upon with his purist masters. I don’t weigh my shots, I therefor present faulty shots. I use a blend, where their dogma requires a single origin. Funny enough, it’s always the hangarounds and prospects that polices everything, in order to prove themselves purist at heart to the priesthood.

Brands works on all three levels though, introducing yet another expression that we should use more in our industry: loyalty. Pictured above is three brands I’ve worked with from the start since I got to Sweden (RB before that). I tried other tampers in Australia, but didn’t like their grip. The wood grip suited me fine, and I’ve used the same tamper ever since. I also met the family behind the tamper, and I remain loyal to the brand because of my relation to them, proven that they are awesome people. Same with the espresso machine. The LM family is a close-to-the-grassroot community building gang, honoring those using their machines. DM was my own pick of employer, recognizing the style of coffee that was my preference, the way coffee tasted back in Australia. I’ve been loyal to DM not only because of the tastiness, but also because of the company culture that is highly inviting and open minded. We aim to build community and relationships, not tribes.

I think understanding the difference is crucial: a tribe demands loyalty, a community and a brand earn theirs. A relationship on the other hand, just like a marriage, demands loyalty but has to be earned mutualy. Transparency then is key.

There are some new kids in town, doing coffee events and building their own coffee festival. We did the same 8 years ago, and the reason it didn’t work then was probably because we were too affiliated with just one brand. Certain companies in Stockholm demand tribes, and don’t want to let their staff be seen with competitors. And we were also mostly a group of friends looking for a good time. Later our relationships turned to family, kids and professionality. It will be very interesting to see what path this group will take.

NP: Melissa Auf Der Maur Followed The Waves